LAWRENCEVILLE — While Gwinnett’s chairwoman has proposed few changes to the county operating budget, changes brought to the financing of services are expected to mean an increase in taxes to the majority of county residents next year.
In a 2013 budget proposal released Tuesday, Nash unveiled a spending plan incorporating a new balance of funding created by a settlement with local cities over services. It divides the county into districts, ensuring that city residents do not pay county taxes for services they only receive from the city.
While that means all city residents will receive a break on paying for development and enforcement taxes, the biggest break will come for those in cities with their own police forces.
But Nash said the service from the county police department will change little. So with fewer taxpayers footing the bill for the county force, the tax bills for unincorporated residents (and those in cities without police departments) are expected to go up.
“Essentially, it’s a redistribution,” Nash said. “We feel like the safety of the residents is so important. I could not bring myself to make the cuts needed to balance the budget in the police district.”
The structure also gives a big break to residents of Loganville, which has its own fire department.
Even with the recreation rate slated to dip from 1 to 0.95, taxpayers in unincorporated areas could see a rate increase of about 0.73 mils, bringing the total rate to 13.75 mils. That would cost owners of the average $160,000 home another $40 each year.
The number, though, is much smaller than the minimum of 16.61 mils officials estimated the rate would rise to if the county had to implement the judge’s order in the service delivery suit. The chairwoman said she was thankful that city officials agreed to come back to the negotiating table after the case was appealed, reaching a more palatable solution.
Commissioner Jace Brooks, who was a Suwanee councilman when the settlement was reached, said the news may not be good to residents outside of cities, but the city dwellers have been over-charged for years, while people in unincorporated areas were under-charged.
“Now it’ll be more balanced,” Brooks said. “I believe this is the way we should have been doing things for quite some time, but obviously it does have an impact on the county.”
But Nash was swift to point out that Tuesday’s proposal was not about the millage rate, which is set each summer after the county’s tax digest is assessed. Officials have anticipated a 1.9 percent decrease in property values, but a steep change in that could alter the numbers.
“We’re not establishing millage rates now,” she said. “(But) we need to be sharing openly about what millage rate would be required to support the budget.”
While the county’s capital budget will go down, the proposal for the operating budget is about 1 percent more than 2012.
About $1.3 million in increases come from changes to state law, including money to help the tax assessors and commissioner’s offices with a transition to a new motor vehicle tax. Boosts are proposed to the district attorney’s offices to help with the addition of a mental health court and other accountability courts, as well as a lead investigator requested to help in the influx of allegations of government wrongdoing.
But employees will go another year without pay increases and many positions will remain vacant.
Nash said the national economy and issues like the current “fiscal cliff” caused leaders to tweak the numbers even more.
“That lead us to pull back on a few things that, I can tell you, were needed but we couldn’t afford,” she said, mentioning a proposed new fire station near Georgia Gwinnett College that did not receive funding.
The biggest proposed decrease is another $1 million reduction to the subsidy for the library system, which Nash said could be absorbed in a reduction to materials instead of another change in hours.
County staffers could have absorbed those needs — as well as a $2 million drop in revenue expected from the incorporation of the city of Peachtree Corners — with belt-tightening, she said, but the implementation of the service districts left no choice but to consider a change to the millage rate.
“We are where we are and we had to deal with it,” she said, adding that the budget process was the most difficult she has faced in all her 28 years as both an elected and appointed official.
“What (residents will) see is we have managed to preserve the delivery of services at the level people have become accustomed to,” she said. “I think this is a fiscally responsible budget.”
Residents have an opportunity to give commissioners their opinion on the spending plan during a 7 p.m. hearing Dec. 10 at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center in Lawrenceville.
Commissioners will have about a month to consider the proposal or make any changes prior to the budget’s adoption, scheduled for Jan. 3.